All posts by fepowhistory

“Children’s book written by Japanese PoW in weekly instalments for son at boarding school printed 75 years later after manuscript found in loft”

A book, written by Arthur Stirby in installemts so that it could be sent to his son in boarding school, has been published 75 years later.

Arthur Stirby was a Japanese POW Camp survivor and wrote the book about a dog to “build a link” with his son Robert.

You can read more about the book, Now It Can Be Told, and how it came to be publsihed here.

Did Allied Strategy Prolong FEPOW Suffering?

By Mary Monro, author of Stranger In My Heart (Unbound, 2018)

We naturally focus on the long, terrible suffering of the FEPOWs. But what if there could have been an earlier end to the war? This is the question that struck me when I uncovered my father’s part in trying to liberate the PoWs in Hong Kong.

Major John Monro RA escaped, with two colleagues, from Sham Shui Po PoW camp in Hong Kong in February 1942, making their way 1500 miles across China to the wartime capital at Chongqing. In August 1942 he was made Assistant Military Attaché there, where his chief role was liaison with Col Lindsay Ride, founder of the British Army Aid Group (BAAG), a humanitarian and intelligence organisation supporting the Hong Kong PoWs.

My father also had close links with US Air Force Chief of Staff, Col Merian Cooper, who served General Chennault of Flying Tigers fame. Cooper had long been a pilot and he was also a film maker, creating and co-directing King Kong. He flies the plane that kills the beast in the final scene.

Images courtesy of Mary Monro

In autumn 1942 the Japanese seemed to be an unstoppable force and competing strategies were being considered by Allied Command. General Stilwell, Commander of Allied Forces in China, was an infantryman and land war proponent. Chennault was a forward thinking airman who believed that retaking control of China’s airspace and major ports would enable the Allies to attack Japanese shipping, disrupt their supply lines and ultimately attack the Japanese islands themselves.

Part of Chennault’s analysis was the intelligence supplied to him by BAAG, giving him confidence in his plan to retake Hong Kong. My father saw an opportunity to liberate the PoWs as part of this plan, knowing that they were now too weak and sick to escape. He put his idea to Cooper and Ride and they hammered out the details.

At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 the air war strategy was approved and reported in the press – an interesting read for the Japanese! Chennault and Stilwell travelled to Washington for the Trident Conference in May 1943, where they put their detailed and opposing plans to President Roosevelt. He was in favour of the air plan, as was Churchill, who famously said ‘going into swampy jungles to fight the Japanese is like going into the water to fight a shark.’

The air plan won the vote and Roosevelt wrote a directive for the War Department. He showed it to Chennault to check that it included everything he needed, but omitted to sign it, ‘FDR’. The War Department was headed by land war and Stilwell supporters, who ensured the error was never corrected. Chenault never received the planes, pilots, ammunition and fuel that he needed. The land war in Burma went ahead, with huge suffering and loss of life. Had Chennault’s plan been properly resourced, perhaps the war in the Far East would have ended early. Allied resources would have redeployed to Europe, shortening the war there. As many as 9 million lives might have been saved.

Mary’s book, Stranger in my Heart, please click the image to go the book’s website.

Search for Relatives of BSM John Carley, 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery

by Brian Finch

A pre-war football medal awarded to John Carley has been found and the finder would like to return it to the family.

John Carley served as a Battery Sergeant Major with 965 Defence Battery, Royal Artillery, in the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941.  Philip Cracknell’s article about this battery can be read here

Following the surrender on Christmas Day 1941 all the defending forces were incarcerated in prisoner of war camps.  On 25 September 1942 1,816 prisoners of war were taken from Shamshuipo camp and put on an armed Japanese freighter, the Lisbon Maru

This ship set sail on 27 September, also carrying Japanese troops and not marked to show that it had pows on board.  It was torpedoed on 1 October by an American submarine, the USS Grouper.  During the 24 hours it took to sink, the pows on board were confined to the holds with the hatches battened down and with no access to food, water, fresh air or toilet facilities.  Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery the stale air soon became foul and suffocating, some men died during the night.  The condition in all three holds where the pows were confined were atrocious, but those in the third hold had the worst time.  This was where the gunners were held, and as their hold was filling with water they had the unenviable task of manning an inadequate hand pump to keep the ship afloat.  In the stifling atmosphere the men could hardly breathe and were only able to pump for a few minutes at a time.  As one man became exhausted another would take his place.  This went on all night until by the early hours of 2 October all the men collapsed out of sheer exhaustion.

Shortly after this the men in the second hold managed to break out and open all three hatches. Most managed to get out and jump into the sea to save their lives, but they were then shot at by the Japanese with rifles and machine-guns.  Tragically, in the third hold, where the gunners had worked so hard to save the ship from going down earlier, the only ladder broke, and most of the men then went down with the ship.  John Carley was almost certainly one of those brave men who kept the ship afloat for so long and then perished as they went down with the ship.  It is certainly known that he died in the sinking.  He was one of the 828 who tragically died in this terrible incident.

Bryher Bell has contacted Philip Cracknell to say that he has a 1936 football medal for John Carley when he was serving in Aldershot.  He would love to be able to trace the family so that he can return this medal to them.

If anyone knows of any relatives or descendants of John Carley, please can they contact Philip Cracknell at philip.g.cracknell@gmail.com to let him know.

‘The Borneo Graveyard 1941–1945’

By John Tulloch

Borneo, the land of the head hunter, was a WW2 graveyard for POWs, internees, locals, Javanese and Japanese.

The narrative follows the raising of five air defence regiments in 1939, their deployment to South East Asia in late 1942, their short campaign in the Netherlands East Indies and eventual captivity as POWs in Java and then North Borneo.

This book portrays the horrific story of Borneo during the Japanese occupation of 1941-1945. Thousands of Australian, British, Dutch and Indian POWs, internees, locals of Borneo and Javanese perished in Borneo during this period.

The Borneo Graveyard 1941-1945, by John S. M. Tulloch

Allied POWs, who were sent to various POW camps in British and Dutch Borneo, were to die of maltreatment, malnutrition or execution. Many were forced to walk Death Marches in the jungle with a horrifying conclusion. Internees were held in internment camps and suffered dreadfully. The local populace suffered; torture, executions and massacres occurred and malnutrition was endemic. At great personal sacrifice they helped the POWs and internees. The secretive Z Force gathered intelligence and trained local guerrilla fighters. In 1945, the Australian military engaged in bitter fighting to liberate Borneo.

This book closes with the convalescence of survivors at Labuan, followed by the repatriation of British POWs and internees, and the dreadful wall of silence experienced by so many on returning to the United Kingdom.

This book is a tribute to the strength of character and bravery of those who endured the Japanese occupation.

The author, John Tulloch, served for eight years in the New Zealand Army including a 12 month Tour of Duty in Vietnam (68/69). He served 30 years in the British Army and then 12 years in the MOD Civil Service. For 21 years he was a visiting instructor on the Jungle Warfare Instructors Course in Brunei. He has trekked and climbed extensively in Sabah and Sarawak and has an extensive knowledge of the area. He has written articles and given talks on Vietnam and Borneo. This is his first book. He was honoured with the MBE in 2003.

Additional Information:

ISBN 978-983-3987-65-8                   Format: Hardback

Dimensions: 26x20x3 cm                   Pages: 472

Published: March 2020                       Cost: £25 plus p&p.

Contact and sole distributor: johnsmtulloch@gmail.com

For more information about the book and author please see the below flyer:

New VJ Day Commemorative Bench Installed

A bench to commemorate VJ Day has been installed in the market town of Swaffham, after it was inially delayed due to COVID-19. In addition to this, “Swaffham Heritage Museum has created a new resource on its website covering the history of the war in the Far East and the involvement of soldiers from Swaffham and surrounding towns”.

To read more about this story please click here.

Alicia Anckorn’s Creative Writing about her Grandfather, Fergus Anckorn

by Alicia Anckorn

My grandfather Fergus Anckorn returned home to England on 9th November 1945, after three years of captivity in the Far East. When I was growing up, he often told me of his experiences as a FEPOW, and would conjure vivid imagery as he spoke – such was his command of language and his storytelling ability. After my grandfather’s passing in 2018, I found that writing about him was a good way to deal with my grief. Below are two such pieces – a poem about memory and homecoming, and a story about my grandfather’s many encounters with Death. He was a very special man, and I am proud to share his incredible story and help preserve the memory of his extraordinary life.

Alicia with her grandfather

My grandfather passed away in 2018 at the age of 99. He was a prisoner of war of the Japanese, but also a talented magician, who used his talent with sleight of hand to help himself and his comrades survive in the camp. He was not a religious man, and although those who heard his life story would often suggest that a divine power was protecting him, he shunned this notion. For him, a benevolent God would not have left his friends to die, and he could not imagine why he would have been chosen to survive in their place. In 2016, part of his incredible life story was included in the final, winning act of a young magician and soldier on Britain’s Got Talent. I have an enduring memory of my grandfather standing onstage surrounded by the Household Cavalry with his medals glinting under the lights. I am lucky enough to be able to watch that moment over and over again; thanks to his numerous appearances on television and radio I will never find myself struggling to remember the sound of his voice, and how he would laugh when people gasped in amazement at his conjuring tricks and the astonishing tales of his wartime experience.

I had a very close relationship with my grandfather, and he instilled in me a love of stories and language. He was always adamant that when he died, his body was to be left to medical science. I am fascinated by the idea of so much history contained in the body of one person. The institution which received his body noted that with his donation, he would continue on as a silent teacher. His body and mind, each with their own constellation of scars, have now both served as testimony to the horrors of war, the power of forgiveness and utter embracement of being alive.

If my grandfather held anything sacred, it was the power of the written word, and the ability that stories have to transport us to different times and places. He gifted to me my first Terry Pratchett book, offering up a world of magic to which it seemed that my grandfather had always been privy. In Terry Pratchetts Discworld, Death is given a character and personified. Death is not cruel or malicious, but simply an entity trying to do a good job. My grandfather had many brushes with mortality during the war, from being blown up and nearly losing his right hand in the Battle of Singapore, to being one of only a few survivors of the infamous Alexandra Hospital Massacre. Towards the end of his life, I joked with him that Death would be out of breath from trying to catch up with him for so long, an idea which he laughed at and seemed to relish. Many people have commented before that he cheated Death, but I prefer to think of it it as an old, enduring friendship.

Fergus Anckorn, 1918-2018

22/03/18, 01:08am

Fergus awoke to a figure standing by his bed. The room was black as an inkwell, but he recognised the figure looming in the darkness.
MR FERGUS ANCKORN, BORN ON THE TENTH OF DECEMBER, NINETEEN-EIGHTEEN?
Ah yes, there it was. The words appeared in Fergus’ head rather than through his ears. It was nice not to need his hearing aids.
“Yes, but I suspect you already knew that, didn’t you?” Fergus sat up in his bed. He suddenly felt as though a weight had been lifted from his entire being. The figure projected a noise which reminded Fergus of a soft, far away rumble of thunder on an August afternoon. The figure may or may not have been trying to laugh.
I CERTAINLY DID, MR ANCKORN. THE NAME THING IS MORE OF A FORMALITY, TO BE HONEST. IF I APPEAR WITH NO INTRODUCTION, PEOPLE SEEM TO GET SPOOKED.
Fergus regarded the figure, without noticing he didn’t need to reach for his glasses to see. It looked much the same as the last time he had seen it – tall, draped in a hooded cloak which was so black it seemed to call to you to fall into its abyss. As before, the cloak seemed to ripple as though touched gently by an underwater current. Below the hood was utter darkness, but two ice-blue sparks held Fergus’ gaze.
“Scared? Of you?” Fergus asked. “That’s ridiculous, when I go, I’m not going to be frightened at all. It’ll be just another Tuesday as far as I’m concerned.”
WELL… YES. THAT’S THE THING, MR ANCKORN. I BELIEVE TODAY IS A THURSDAY.

“Oh. Today’s the day, is it?”
YES, MR ANCKORN. EXCUSE ME, I’M NOT VERY USED TO THIS. PEOPLE DON’T USUALLY HAVE MULTIPLE APPOINTMENTS WITH ME.
“No, I suppose they don’t! It has been a while now, hasn’t it? And I think you can call me Fergus now we’ve known each for so long.”
THAT’S TRUE ENOUGH. I THOUGHT I HAD YOU BACK IN 1942.

Fergus remembered. He remembered being a young man, clammy with terror in the drivers seat of a sweltering lorry, surrounded by explosions and gunfire. He could see himself curled up inside the shuddering metal leviathan when reality split open with a white-hot flash of light. He remembered a nebula of pain radiating from his right hand – and in the abject torrent of smog and dirt and blood, a presence, which regarded him for a moment and seemed to fade into the chaos. That was the first time.

The second time came shortly afterwards, in a hospital heaving with the wounded, where the walls seemed to crack under the weight of the tremendous suffering. Fergus was lying on a stretcher, ether-dizzy, drifting from consciousness to nothingness and back again. Then, through the thickness of sleep he heard the rough staccato of shouted orders and the sickly sound of blades invading flesh. Poor Mum,he whispered to himself as he tried in vain to stop the anguished screams of soldiers, doctors and nurses from reaching his ears. With Heraclean effort, Fergus dragged his head under his pillow and awaited his final visitor. Suddenly, he felt a slight pressure on his right hand, and blood erupted from the wound. It was as though his stitches had been loosened by the brush of ghostly fingertips.

NOT YET, MR ANCKORN, came a voice echoing inside his head.
WE WILL SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN.
The words rang in Fergusmind as he lost his grip on consciousness and fell back into the deep black trench of slumber. A Japanese soldier walked by the bed and saw a still, covered body, red blood advancing on the white sheet like the Imperial flag. Death had already visited here.

Fergus remembered the cruel assault of tropical heat and how the night would descend on the prisoners like an ambush. He remembered the ever-present background whine of hunger, like a badly-tuned wireless. He would perform magic tricks for his comrades in an effort to raise morale, in an attempt to forget that they felt like shadows of the men who had been captured. Every day another of his comrades fell, surrendering their lives to the heat, the starvation, the disease, and the brutality of their captors. Fergus felt himself vanishing in the wild indifference of the rainforest. He remembered standing in a line with other prisoners, a screaming guard in his face and a knife baring its teeth at his throat, when out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a hooded figure…

Time stopped.
The figure was now facing Fergus dead-on.
Is this it now?asked Fergus, as his lungs wrenched in breath after breath, his body drenched in sweat and dirt.
IT CERTAINLY SEEMS THAT WAY, DOESNT IT, MR ANCKORN, came the reply from under the midnight-black hood.
Look at me,said Fergus, gesturing to his own skeletal frame, If you fancy a holiday, I could bloody well take over for you.
I’
M AFRAID IT DOESNT QUITE WORK LIKE THAT, the figure responded.
Youve been here for a long time now,said Fergus. “I’ve seen you. You took my friends.
I KNOW. ITS ALL PART OF THE JOB, MR ANCKORN.
Oh yes? Well. Let me show you what I do for a living. If you can tell me how its done, Ill go with you. What do you say to that?
The figure seemed to think for a moment.
WELL… I SUPPOSE I COULD PUSH BACK MY NEXT APPOINTMENT. IT TAKES A WHILE TO GET TO POLAND FROM HERE ANYWAY.
The livid guard and the other prisoners were still trapped in a single moment of fury and desperate fear. Fergus was not afraid.

Very good,said Fergus, the echo of a grin on his face as he undid the canvas strap on his wrist, which held a minuscule photograph of himself next to a bespectacled young woman with a broad smile.
Now,Fergus held the figure’s gaze. “Watch my hands very carefully…

Fergus let out a laugh which carried across the room from his bed.
”Oh yes, I got you there, didn’t I? Did you ever try to work out how I’d done it?”
SOMETHING TO DO WITH A RUBBER BAND?
“Well, I’m certainly not going to tell you now. But I ought to thank you. Your loss of that bet gave me seventy-five more years.”
I HAVE SINCE UPDATED THE RULES TO DISALLOW WAGERS OR CONJURING TRICKS OF ANY KIND.
Fergus grinned. He had never been a man to bow to authority. His reputation for audacity had led to some quite precarious situations during his time in the Royal Artillery. Anckorn, are you giving me a funny look? No sir, youve got one, but I didnt give it you. It was worth the punishment to see his friends laugh. And then there was that night in the camp when he was performing magic for the commandant, when he had worked out that if he made food items disappear and reappear, the guards wouldn’t eat anything he had touched. Of course – the prisoners were vermin to their captors. A tin of fish here, a couple of bananas there… it was enough to feed himself for a week, maybe even two. Then he’d got ambitious, and wanted to help his comrades, so he had come up with a plan. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that particular plan had led to a fifty-egg omelette and a narrow escape from a nasty beheading. Fergus could have sworn he’d seen a shadowy form in the corner of the tent that day, too…
REMINISCING, ARE YOU, FERGUS?
“A little. You and I have run into each other so often. It’s rather strange that this is the last time.” ALL THINGS MUST COME TO AN END.
“Yes, of course. That’s something of which I am certain.”

DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY YOU SURVIVED? ALL THOSE CLOSE CALLS? IT’S BASICALLY THE NUMBER ONE QUESTION I GET WHEN IT COMES TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE HAD NEAR-ME EXPERIENCES.
Fergus shook his head and shot back, “No. What does it matter? I don’t think about yesterday – nothing can change yesterday, it’s history. Don’t think about tomorrow – you might not wake up in the morning. When I woke up each morning in the camp, I would think to myself, I must get through today, whatever happens. Now I’m about to head off into the next world. I’m a little surprised that there is a next world, but I’m ready. There’s no point wasting time wondering about why I got to this moment. I’ve had the most wonderful happy life, since those days. I just want to keep moving forward, whatever that might mean now.”
THAT’S… INTERESTING, said Death, putting a cadaverous hand underneath the hood in what may or may not have been an attempt to scratch its chin (if there was a chin under there at all).
I THINK YOU’RE THE FIRST PERSON TO TURN THAT OFFER DOWN.
“I wouldn’t feel bad about it,” Fergus replied considerately. “There’s a first time for everything.” YOU’RE RIGHT, said Death. I’M LEARNING NEW THINGS ABOUT YOU HUMANS ALL THE TIME.

“Right, well, we ought to get on with it, then.” Fergus stepped out of his bed with ease. Behind the spectral figure, a black door had appeared as if from nowhere. It swung open to reveal what looked like crisp English woods after a light rainfall. Death stood beside him.
EXCUSE THE DOG HAIR ON THE CLOAK. WORD GOT AROUND THAT YOU WERE ARRIVING AND SEVERAL OF OUR CANINE INHABITANTS BECAME QUITE EXCITED. ALSO, A WOMAN SAID SOMETHING ABOUT A WATERING CAN? I DON’T GET HALF THE THINGS YOU PEOPLE SAY TO EACH OTHER THESE DAYS.

Fergus glanced at the time-worn photograph sitting on the dresser by his bed. A plump woman wearing round spectacles and a floral dress stood in a garden in a bout of joyful laughter, a labrador with a shining black coat sitting dutifully at her feet, both frozen in a monochromatic sliver of time and space. “They’re waiting for me, are they? Oh, excellent. Well, it looks like I shall have a wonderful time.” He gestured at the door with a hand wrinkled like the pages of a well-worn book. Permanent bruises had blossomed like sakura under the skin, a map of enemy strikes, but his hand was strong and did not tremble now. “Do I just walk straight through?”

YES, FERGUS. IT’S BEEN A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU AGAIN AFTER ALL THIS TIME.
Fergus nodded at the figure, rose from his bed, and took a step through the door without faltering. A twig snapped on the damp grass underfoot. It was warm, with a slight breeze, and the clouds were sailing lazily across the sky. He looked over to Death, still standing in the room, which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller as he looked on. Death seemed to be gazing at something, a photograph on the wall, a skeletal hand outstretched to touch the tip of the glass frame.
AH YES, said Death. I THOUGHT YOU WERE GREAT ON BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT.



i think of you

the stories you told me

the place and time a dimension and a continent away,

with nothing to anchor them to here and now but

your voice

and my small brain

buzzing with words and questions  

it happened, you said.

you got through that day. and the next and the next

those three years are still out there somewhere

where you lost them

curled up on the forest floor

drenched in tropical rain, blistered from the sinful heat

crusted black with old blood  

in your memory –

the smell of iron

and sepia-toned dust from the roads shaped by

your feather-light footprints

the sun bearing down on you, an inescapable commandant

the railroad stretching before you,

a cruel and toothy grin.  

you took solace in the dark

the damp cold nights of england welcomed you home in silence

they did not judge

or try to understand

as the streetlamps softly lit your way

as you drew in each grateful breath

and exhaled wisps of gunmetal.  

now we sit together

and you tell me how it was

the years between us as wide as a river

and your stories a bridge to cross them.

Poem by Alicia Anckorn

Anniversary: Repatriation Memorial, Southampton

On this day, seven years ago, the Repatriation Memorial at Town Quay Park in Southampton was unveiled.

The granite memorial plaque was established by the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG) in Southampton on 27 October 2013 following a national fundraising campaign. It is the second of two such memorials (the first is in Liverpool) marking the repatriation of Far East captives. Each lists the names of the repatriation ships that arrived between 7 October and mid-December 1945, either side of a dedication to the memory of all those held in Far East captivity.

In addition, a north American oak tree was planted in an adjacent plot in front of the plaque in Town Quay Park.

Photo shows the FEPOW North American Oak which was planted in 2013 and was taken by Roger Townsend this year (2020).

Over 37,000 British military survivors of Far East captivity returned home by sea to the ports of Southampton and Liverpool during the autumn of 1945. The Southampton memorial is fixed to a remnant of Victorian brick wall in Town Quay Park, facing the Isle of Wight ferry terminal and Southampton Water. The RFHG is indebted to former FEPOW, Sapper Bob Hucklesby 560 Field Company Royal Engineers, for his help in establishing the memorial, and to the Friends of Town Quay Park who look after it.

An interview with former FEPOW Bert Warne was recently featured on ITV in which the Southampton FEPOW Merorial is shown. You can watch the interview, here.

Tribute to Ron Bridge

Sadly we report the death of Ronald William ‘Ron’ Bridge MBE AFC FRAeS FRIN.

Ron, who was well known to many of the FEPOW and Civilian Internee community, was born in Tianjin’s British Concession, China in 1934. He passed away peacefully at home in Sussex, U.K. on 27th September 2020 aged 86.

When on 8th December 1941 the Japanese Army took control of the Tianjin’s British Concession, 8-year-old Ron, his parents and baby brother spent almost a year under ‘house arrest’, curfews and moves to different hotels by the Japanese. In March 1943 the family, including his maternal grandparents were moved with hundreds of others to Weihsien in the Shandong province. Weihsin Civilian Assembly Centre was a former American Presbyterian mission where they had established a school, seminary and hospital. But by 1943 it was “a scene of destruction and despair. Japanese had taken over the residences at their headquarters the rest of the compound had suffered from looting and neglect and a motley collection of run down buildings where about 1500 of us were stuffed like sardines” (David Michell: A Boy’s War, Overseas Missionary Fellowship 1988, p.62-3).

In these ‘run down buildings’ Ron, his baby brother and his parents struggled with the primitive conditions for the following two and a half years.

Liberation came on 17th August 1945, Ron writes, “… suddenly a large American aircraft appeared from the sky and out of the rear dropped seven parachutes. We ran down the sloping road and through the gate, the guards made no attempt to stop us. As we approached the paratroopers emerged from six foot high kaoliang with guns at waist height. When they realised that they were being approached by schoolboys, women crying and gangly thin men they relaxed….One of my friends grabbed a parachute and we passed the silk around. Anyone got a knife. A knife appeared and the panels of the parachute were soon mutilated and our heroes asked to sign before they disappeared into camp. The good natured soldiers obliged us…I got all seven signatures. Seventy years later I still have it and the names of the Duck team.”  (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019, p.147-150).

On 17th October 1945, two months to the day after they were ‘liberated’ Ron and family left the camp and flew back to Tianjin. There was a brief repatriation to England in 1946 and then the family returned to China. Ron, aged 17 finally arrived to settle in England in July 1951 where he joined ICI. At the age of 18 he joined the RAF and, much later, worked for various civilian air lines including British Airways. During his career he was awarded the Air Force Cross, various Directorships and Fellowships, including the Freedom of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Freedom of the City of London.

Ron’s recollections of life in China, internment and his later career are vividly recounted in his autobiography: (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019.)  

But for the FEPOW and Civilian Internee families Ron will be remembered for his Chairmanship of ABCIFER, the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region.

ABCIFER was founded in 1994 with the aim of seeking compensation for the suffering of civilian internees in the Far East during W.W.II. Keith Martin was the first Chairman, Ron took over chairmanship in 1999. This period and his tenacious support and fight for compensation is modestly covered in just one paragraph at the end of his memoirs. But in truth it was a long and hard battle that went on for years with both Ron and Keith spending many hours in the Public Records Office going through files and finding the evidence to support the claim.

In 1995, with the help of British lawyer Martin Day, ABCIFER and the Centre for Internees Rights, Inc. (CFIR), the main American group for civilians, joined forces with groups from Australia and New Zealand to file a lawsuit against the Japanese government for compensation for the ill-treatment they had received in the camps. Their claim for $20,000 dollars each is based on compensation paid to American Japanese interned by the Americans during the Second World War.

In 1999 Royal British Legion took up the request for a special gratuity for POWs of the Japanese. Towards the end of 2000 Lewis Moonie, British Defence Minister, told MPs that the surviving Britons who were held captive by the Japanese and the widows of those who had since died were to receive an ex gratia payment of £10,000 each. Moonie claimed that this was a “debt of honour” owed to civilian, forces and merchant navy captives.

But just six months later, after thousands of applications had been made and paid, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) who were now administrating the scheme, clarified the criteria for payment.  It was no longer sufficient to hold a British passport and to have been interned to qualify for compensation. Now it was essential for claimants to have a proven “blood-link

Although he was not personally affected by this Ron was “appalled that those internees who were British Passport holders but due to being Jewish, coloured born in Ireland or women who had obtained British nationality by marriage prior to 1941, were excluded from the ex gratia payment of £10,000 implemented by Tony Blair.” (Ron Bridge.p. 215.)

Hence Ron continued his campaign and with the help of ABCIFER’s solicitors he was able to “get four QCs to act pro bono and with additional support from 300 Members of parliament, to defeat the MOD in the High Court” (Ron Bridge p.215) It was a long fight. It was not until 2006 that compensation was paid.

We are sure that those who received the original ex gratia payment and those who fell into the excluded category and their families feel a huge debt of gratitude for Ron’s tenacity, drive and his endless campaigning for which he was quite rightly appointed an MBE in 2007.

But that was not the end. Ron’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment to maintaining and helping preserve the history of POW and Civilian Internment in the Far East during World War II continued. He created a most comprehensive data base of civilian internees and POWs and was most definitely the ‘go to person’ for those seeking detailed information about internees. 

Ron’s passing is a huge loss to all those who knew him. But, a copy of his database is now available for all to view at St Michael, Cornhill. (St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London EC3V 9DS)

FEPOW Memorial Stone Unveiled in Leicester

A memorial stone dedicated to all men, women, and children who served or were interned has be unveiled in Leicester. Installed with funds raised by COFEPOW, the stone has been installed in Peace Walk, next to the Arch of Remembrance at Victoria Park.

More information can be found here.

Also in Leicester, an exhibition for the 75th annivaersay of VJ day is being held. VJ 75 – Leicestershire Prisoners of War in the Far East, 1941 – 45 is displayed until the 8th November 2020 at Newarke House Museum & Gardens.

Anniversary: Repatriation Memorial, Liverpool

On this day in 2011, the Repatriation Memorial was unveiled in a service led by Rector of Liverpool, Rev Steve Brookes. The ceremony on the pier head was attended by 650 people who watched as the granite plaque, engraved with the names of the repatiration ships that docked at Liverpool and dedicated to 20,000 British servicemen and 1,000 civilians who were aboard them, was revealed.

One such serviceman, Maurice Naylor CBE, a former FEPOW and Gunner in the 135th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, who himself returned to Liverpool after survivng the camps aboard the SS Orduna, unveiled the plaque as part of the ceremony.

The memorial was funded through a national fundraising campaign, led by RFHG, that raised £8000 and remembers those that managed to make it home. It is the first of two such memorials (the second is in Southampton and was unveiled in 2013) marking the repatriation of Far East captives. Each lists the names of the repatriation ships that arrived between 7 October and mid-December 1945, either side of a dedication to the memory of all those held in Far East captivity.

You can read more about the ceremony, including quotes from Maurice, here.

An interview with former FEPOW Bert Warne was recently featured on ITV. Although the placque shown is the Southampton FEPOW Merorial, Bert’s ship did dock at Liverpool. You can read more about Bert, and watch his interview, here.